Stephen Crane biography
One of America's most influential realist writers, Stephen Crane, born in New Jersey on November 1, 1871, produced works that have been credited with establishing the foundations of modern American naturalism. His Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) realistically depicts the psychological complexities of battlefield emotion, and has become a classic of American literature. He is also known for authoring Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.
Born on November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey, Stephen Crane was the 14th and last child of Reverend Jonathan Townley Crane, a Methodist Episcopal minister, and Mary Helen Peck Crane. He attended preparatory school at the Claverack College (1888-90) before spending less than two years as a college student (first at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and then at Syracuse University). He then moved to Paterson, New Jersey, with one of his brothers and made frequent trips to nearby New York City, writing short pieces on what he experienced there.
Crane truly embarked upon a literary career in 1892, when he moved to New York and began freelancing as a writer. Living a Bohemian lifestyle among local artists, Crane gained firsthand familiarity with poverty and street life, focusing his writing efforts on New York's downtrodden tenement districts, particularly the Bowery. A once-thriving area in the southern part of Manhattan, in the post-Civil War era, the Bowery's busy shops and hulking mansions had been replaced by saloons, dance halls and brothels; Crane immersed himself this world.
'Maggie: A Girl of the Streets'
While Crane most likely had completed an early draft of his first book, the novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), while studying at Syracuse, it wasn't until after moving to New York that he rewrote and finalized the piece—its pages fortified with details that he picked up in the Bowery. A compassionate story of an innocent and abused girl's descent into prostitution and her eventual suicide, Maggie was initially rejected by several publishers who feared that Crane's description of slum life would shock readers. Crane ended up publishing the work himself in 1893, under the pseudonym "Johnston Smith."
Arena writer Hamlin Garland published a review following Maggie's release, calling the book "the most truthful and unhackneyed study of the slums I have yet read." The work failed to garner further attention, though, and the expense of publishing it himself left Crane penniless. (However, Crane would create a second edition of the book in 1896, softening some of the book's graphic details, and receive wide recognition; at this point, of course, The Red Badge of Courage had also just been published to immediate success.)
'The Open Boat'
Due to Crane's new reputation as a war writer, as well as his curiosity about his accuracy in depicting the psychological states of combat, he undertook a new career: war correspondent. In 1897, Crane set sail for Cuba to report on the insurrection there.
However, after the ship on which he was traveling, the SS Commodore, sank, Crane spent a day and a half adrift with three other men. His account of the ordeal resulted in one of the world's great short stories, "The Open Boat."
Unable to get to Cuba, in April 1898, Crane went to Greece to report on the Greco-Turkish War, taking with him Cora Taylor, a former brothel proprietor. However, after an armistice was signed between Greece and Turkey in May of that year, Crane and Taylor left Greece for England. Crane continued to write, publishing The Third Violet in 1897 and Active Service in 1899, but nearly universal negative reviews of every novel since The Red Badge of Courage caused his literary reputation to dwindle, and, despite Courage being in its 14th printing, Crane was running out of money.
On top of his mounting financial troubles, Crane's health had been deteriorating for a few years; he had contracted everything from malaria to yellow fever during his Bowery years and time as a war correspondent. In May 1899, Crane, along with Cora Taylor, checked into a health spa on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany. One month later, on June 5, 1900, Stephen Crane died of tuberculosis at the age of 28.